The Making of Radicals

I was reading several articles and together they started to send my thinking in some separate directions. ‘A poverty of dignity and a wealth of rage’ by Thomas Friedman was one, another, written by Caryle Murphy, was based upon the views of Robert Pape, expressed in his book, ‘Dying to Win’. The sleeper is an article on the rise of feminism in Africa, highlighting the matriarchal village of Umoja, Kenya.

I, myself, most strongly see the Islamic religious tenet factors, but in looking over some of this I wonder if some of the classic steps towards radicalism aren’t also at work. Because while radicalism and fanaticism are related, they do have some differences, I think.

virtually all suicide bombers, of late, have been Sunni Muslims. There are a lot of angry people in the world. Angry Mexicans. Angry Africans. Angry Norwegians. But the only ones who seem to feel entitled and motivated to kill themselves and totally innocent people, including other Muslims, over their anger are young Sunni radicals.

….. “When the inner conflict becomes too great, some are turned by recruiters to seek the sick prestige of ‘martyrdom’ by fighting the allegedly unjust occupation of Muslim lands and the ‘decadence’ in our own.”

This is not about the poverty of money. This is about the poverty of dignity and the rage it can trigger.

Friedman talks of the religious factor, quoting Bouyeri, who killed Theo Van Gogh, and he talks of the isolation of young Muslims in Europe. Social alienation. Another factor he covers is the faultline between the history of Sunni Islam and its role today, all of which Friedman concludes lead to the solution that one is looking at a cult religion with sudden and fanatic devotion.

I wouldn’t dismiss that out of hand, but I’m not so sure. On to the Pape piece, written by Caryle Murphy of the Washington Post.

“Suicide terrorism is not so much committed by religious fanatics looking for a quick trip to paradise as it is by a variety of secular and religious individuals who fear that their societies will be unalterably transformed by a religiously motivated occupier”

….over 95 percent of all suicide attacks around the world since 1980 until today have in common is not religion, but a clear, strategic objective: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”

-Robert Pape

He makes a connection between jihadists and American troop presence within the country of origin. He advocates the Liberals main stance:”No matter how you slice it,” he says, “it’s American policy that’s underneath this, not Islamic fundamentalism.”
“In terms of al Qaeda, he’s dead wrong,” says Marc Sageman, author of the authoritative “Understanding Terror Networks” weighing in on Friedmans side.

Ok those are the main quotes. Now, how does this all pan out?

First I think it shows a dual stream of influence that is producing upheaval in the global Islamic community. We’ve heard lots about the push toward the fundamentalist rule, largely because of the Taliban, and the Ayotollah rule of Iran. What we don’t hear much of these days is the disturbance of the traditional way of life within many of these Muslim countries. There is unrest within, and a push for strictly interpreted Islam without.

In other words, I think both sides of the analysis hold pieces of the puzzle, the question is how does this transform into the radical , and then further into the fanatic, and finally to the jihadist?

First, I don’t believe we often see sudden conversions in this particular case. I think what we see are sudden manifestations of changes that have prepared for in a direction that then takes a quickly executed path. These are most likely orchestrated through a core group of planners and instigators, who themselves do not sacrifice upon their altars. They are feeding less thinking souls in that direction.

But what provides the cultivation of this resource of human bombs?

It isn’t hard to find dissatisfied people. That is never the difficulty, what is wanted for radical purposes are those whose sense of justice is deeply offended. This can be drummed up over time. Propaganda and intense “consciousness raising” are used at this step. This forms a nucleus of a community willing to work towards the success of the terror activities of the fanatic. I think this portion is quite wide in its reach in a community. Fanning out from its intense center to a general consensus of offended sense in the group.

But the jihadist needs to be picked and groomed from this larger group. They need to be people completely convinced that this is the only way to accomplish the greater purpose of the group. The surest hook being the idea of God’s approval.

So I think we do see a faceted front in Islamic world terrorism, but I believe that a policy of mere appeasement would be unwise on all counts.

The whole idea of the contribution of American policy only supplies the reasoning for the target, not that underlying the impetus. The secular impetus is the massive changes being seen in the traditional societies and the frenzied efforts to stop that change. Are Americans, and troop presence a vector of the ideal and societal changes? I say yes, that is one, Western education and society produce a continual challenge, but those things also cause frustration when the rewards aren’t forthcoming. Perhaps this is why so many of the jihadists are those fully exposed to the West and then turned towards the proffered ideal of the fundamentalism. The changes cannot be all laid at the doorstep of America, or the West. Hence the illustration of Umoja, Kenya.

The traditional Islam has been a fertile field for oppression and disdain for women, and an uprooter and destroyer of society as it imposes itself by force. The difference now is the availabilty of new ideas. This village is the result of such. The idea of women fully capable to create and sustain a society and refuse the abusive oppression of traditional mores…. this is new. And deeply upsetting to the social fabric. Yet, all revolution is the result of refusal to recognize deep inequities in society and institute change in reasonable time periods. This is happening in the Muslim communities. Especially those most prone to produce jihadists. But not all are formed through the secular circumstances; I think this simply forms the brew from which the group of them arises.

Islam has historically had a violent and forced form of conversion, it is so deeply embedded in their background that it is always present for those who decide to utilize it. Thus Sageman:”[Pape] misunderstands al Qaeda. . . . This is not about occupation; it’s about [al Qaeda] establishing an Islamic state in a core Arab region.”

This facet has to be recognized, and it has to be recognized as one that will not yield to appeasement, anymore than the fundamental changes in Muslim society will stop because Americans pull back from areas they are involved in. Americans at war have simply become a larger target in the scope, and Israel has temporarily receded from the view. But both are unforgiven enemies to those fueled by Islamic religious fervor. And should those states be removed, the march would go on. Appeasement simply means that the way is made easier to such. That is all.

So what can be done? I am of the opinion that Muslims must moderate, as a group, and that they must inculcate moderation throughout the ranks of their society. Can this be done? There are efforts, but they are sluggish. On an even playing field, however, there will be people who in freedom to change from the religion and from the traditions, will. This will go against the grain of some very basic givens for Muslims. It will mean a loss of control, as oppressive tactics are less tolerated. There will be shifts of power which are always volatile.

I think, too, that many Muslim societies have been insular. They have not placed importance on the world at large, and so their view that it is not their personal problem to correct views that give rise to groups such al Queda. That would explain some of the irrational responses to the bombings of civilians and the death of little children- it is abstracted into an outside world that is alien to them. But more and more, it is reaching into their own walled enclaves. They didn’t make the connection between unbridled violence and their implicit approval and acceptance of jihad. But now the scope is being turned their way, and it threatens the lives they have built for themselves. They now have more of a motivation to place pressure to change dangerous opinions within their own ranks. And they should do so before the force of circumstances sweeps them into a situation out of their control.

In all this, I believe the deeply committed fundamental Christian has an important part to play, as well. We can choose to so live our religion that we are stablizers. I think religious Muslims can live alongside people who are committed to God’s values of family, of mutual respect, and those are willing to change for the good – for doing good to others. I don’t think that it is reasonable to expect that they will endure changes implemented by a society they view as corrupt. We who live the Christian walk, instead of brusquely bullying it along with our society’s evil, can be a lighthouse, a beacon of reassurance that one can have both freedom and soundness.

And this was some of the America of old. In the meantime, there are forces at work which perhaps we are not accounting for. Which is why we will continue to rely on God’s help; we must. Otherwise our path is one where the negative meaning of “God help us” will play out.

This is a much deeper clash than political or national, and, in this, is much more a world war than those of the past.